History etched in stone

The oft-vandalized Granite Compressor Building now and in its heyday in a photo held by Dave Hodgdon.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
The oft-vandalized Granite Compressor Building now and in its heyday in a photo held by Dave Hodgdon.

On a cold November morning, Dave Hodgdon surveyed the damage as he walked around the imposing brick building off Mullin Avenue in Quincy.

Every window in the building had been broken, smashed with rocks and bricks. The gutters had fallen off the structure long ago; the roof shingles torn up by Hurricane Sandy.

Inside, vandals had stolen 300 feet of copper piping, but Hodgdon didn’t know that part yet.


“It’s a beautiful building; the problem is the kids have wrecked it inside and outside, and the lack of Department of Conservation and Recreation maintenance — you see what you get,” he said, gesturing to the house, wooden planks screwed against the door frame to try to keep people out, star-shaped holes in the glass windows. “They ignore their buildings until they are very costly to repair.”

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Hodgdon, executive director of Blue Hill Adventure & Quarry Museum, is one of the few people with a passion for the historic Granite Compressor Building, which was instrumental in helping the Granite Railway Co. extract the hard stuff from Quincy quarries for use in statues and buildings around the country.

“We feel the building is part of the history, and that it needs to be preserved,” he said.

Others with a passion for Quincy’s rich granite history, or a fascination with railroads and granite transport, are longing to keep the building intact, and hopeful that the Department of Conservation and Recreation may finally perform some upkeep on the decaying structure.

But for others less enamored with the brick façade or granite foundation, the building is a nuisance.


“If they can no longer care for it and maintain it, perhaps they should consider demolishing it or turn it over to the city,” said City Councilor Brian Palmucci. “But to date, those discussions haven’t happened, and I continue to encourage DCR to engage in a conversation to see what the highest use of that property is, if there is one.”

Palmucci said that despite requests to the state agency, the building has continued to degrade, blight overtaking what was once a roaring operation within.

“It’s not enough to board it up and lock the door and not come back,” he said.

Though the building is almost a century old, there is even debate about how historically signifcant it actually is. The second-story addition in 1942 is problematic for its historic status, and the fact that the building itself was added late in the history of the granite industry has some downplaying its importance.

“Would I say this is a rallying point for making a case for more attention to granite history? I would pick something else,” said Edward Fitzgerald, executive director of the Quincy Historical Society.


Fitzgerald acknowledged that the history of granite has not received as much attention from the society as the two US presidents who were born within Quincy’s borders.

But he said that preserving the granite railway, the incline plane (the sloping path that carried granite to the railroad), or even the quarries themselves would be time and money better spent.

In the meantime, the only thing the building has drawn is ire. Neighbors want the eyesore at the end of their street to disappear.

Jessica Bartlett for the Boston Globe
The compressor house, situated next to the granite incline, used to pump compressed air into machines that help cut the rock in the quarries. Today, the empty, dilapidated house sits in disrepair without a real purpose.

“It’s a historic site supposedly, first commercial railroad in America, [and] the roof is decapitated, the doors are caved in, the windows are broken, someone broke in, it’s just an eyesore,” said Tom Crowley, who lives at 47 Mullin Ave. and has a direct view of the building from his home.

“Sell it or maintain it. It has history, and they don’t care anymore.”

Crowley pointed to the dozen or so homes that have been constructed on the block in the last 13 years, and said the building sticks out like a rotten tooth.

Elaine Savage can’t see the property as clearly from her home at 44 Mullin Ave. But she, too, called it an ugly blotch at the end of her street.

The value of the building is much higher in the eyes of Alfred Bina, president of the Quincy Quarries and Granite Workers Museum.

“There are only one or two places in the city of Quincy where there are some remnants of the granite industry,” Bina said. “One is the incline plane and compressor house, and the other is the [Lyons] Turning Mill below the Granite Links house, and we’re preserving the walls now.”

Bina has a personal interest in the project, as one of his grandfathers worked in the granite rail quarry at the incline plane. His other grandfather also worked in the granite business as a blacksmith.

Years ago, Bina had high hopes for transforming the building into a museum.

Yet those ideas have fallen short, as the organization had no way of coming up with the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for the project.

“If we can work with some kind of program or work with DCR partnership program, we’d love to establish that as Quincy Quarry Granite Workers Museum,’’ Bina said. “But right now, we don’t have the funds, and DCR doesn’t want to do a thing to it.”

According to Victor Campbell, director for Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, the main problem is the lack of attention given to Quincy’s granite history as a whole.

“In Quincy, everything [related to granite] basically died 50 years ago,” Campbell said.

“Trying to resurrect things that are 50 years old in Quincy [is] difficult. A lot of people don’t even remember anything about it. The younger people have no recollection of the quarry industry. It’s not important to them.”

Still, Campbell takes people on monthly tours in the area, a hobby he has been pursuing since 1986.

And though the building may be in an awkward place, keeping Quincy’s past alive is too important to let the building go to waste, he said.

The problem, as it usually does, comes back to funding.

Jessica Bartlett for the Boston Globe
DCR ranger Ray McKinnon (right) puts a temporary band-aid on the door to attempt to secure the property with help from DCR Lieutenant Tom Bender (left).

According to SJ Port, spokeswoman for the DCR, someone with rehabilitation plans and potential funding would have to come forward with a plan.

“The next steps for us . . . [are] to go out and look at it and see if it’s savable, salvageable, and if it is, what that would entail and what it could be used for. Right now, we just boarded it up to keep people safe and out of it,” Port said.

“It’s one of a number of buildings we would love to [preserve], if someone wants to run a business out of it, we can do that through the curatorship program or figure out a way to use that building productively, but we don’t have the staff or resources to fill it, use it, or repair it,” she said.

Hodgdon argues that the state has had 10 years to budget for a capital expense for the building, and has ignored potential funding sources, such as money coming from using the quarries to hold dirt from the Big Dig.

And until something is done about it, Hodgdon will remain on watch, continually checking in on the building, and pushing for the funding to do something about it.

“We’ve been after the state to preserve the existing buildings . . . this is the last that needs to be preserved in the Blue Hills,” he said.

Visit to see historic and current photos of the compressor building and granite incline.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at